San Marco in Hamburg: Motets by Hieronymus Praetorius

A subsequent generation would be led
by players such as Matthias Weckmann and Johann Adam Reinken, this latter a
figure to whom J. S. Bach would bend the knee in his well-chronicled trip to
Hamburg in 1720. At the earlier end of the spectrum stands the figure of
Hieronymus Praetorius (1560-29), father of Jacob, the younger, and himself
successor to his father, Jacob the elder, at the famed Jakobikirche.

This organ culture was bred by the prominence of the city’s churches,
of which the Petrikirche, Jakobikirche, Catharinenkirche, and Nikolaikirche
were especially significant. And in this environment some of the organists
provided not only organ music, but also notable liturgical music in the form of
motet and canticle. Such is the case with Hieronymus Praetorius, featured here
in the CD anthology “San Marco in Hamburg.” The reference to
“San Marco” acknowledges the strong influence of the Venetian
school of Giovanni Gabrieli. The path from Germany to Venice was reasonably
well worn, with the travels of composers like Heinrich Sch¸tz and Hans Leo
Hassler often cited examples, but the rich sonorities of Venice captivated
other composers who had never heard the music of San Marco in situ.
This was the case with Hieronymus Praetorius (and also with the better known
Michael Praetorius—no family relation), but if learned from afar, it is a
musical style they assimilated with fluency.

In “San Marco in Hamburg” the ensemble Weser-Renaissance Bremen
under the direction of Manfred Cordes explores the Italian-influenced motets of
Hieronymus, and does so with a recording of distinction. Though some of the
pieces are large-scale, Cordes compellingly takes them on with only 15
musicians—six singers singing one-to-a-part and 9 instrumentalists
combining winds, strings, and continuo. The result is that in the sumptuous
12-voice “Jubilate Deo” that opens the recording, the sonic
richness is a subtler taste to savor rather than a full-belted blast of power
that overwhelms. And this holds true for the large number of 8-voice works, as
well. Performed in this way, the clarity of motive, the unflagging attention to
purity of intonation—such wonderful final chords in the sections of the
“Magnificat”!—and general buoyance of the sound can come to
the fore with very satisfying results.

The decorative passage work is well served by the one-to-a-part
configuration, and in motets like “Cantate Domino,” this ornamental
style sparkles as foil to the suave lilt of triple-meter tutti passages. Two of
the motets, “Ab oriente and Wie lang” are performed as solo motets,
with accompanying polyphonic voices played instrumentally. In “Ab
oriente,” this gives a welcome chance to relish the fine control of alto
Peter de Groot’s sensitive singing, and the plaintive ethereal sounds of
soprano Monika Mauch in “Wie lang” offer one of the highlights of
the recording.

Steven Plank

image_description=San Marco in Hamburg: Motets by Hieronymus Praetorius
product_title=San Marco in Hamburg: Motets by Hieronymus Praetorius
product_by=Weser-Renaissance Bremen; Manfred Cordes, Director.
product_id=CPO 777 245-2 [CD]